“Conspiracy theorist” isn’t quite right either. These are priests of the Church of Conspiracy, a heresy of Gnostic heresy which holds that man is the ruler of history, the demiurge of all events that befall us. Powerful and unseen forces lurk in the shadows. The conspiracy theorists know they’re out there, even as the enemy’s name changes almost daily: Big Oil, capitalists, Republicans, or perhaps those eternal pullers of mankind’s puppet strings, the Jews.
The masons of dementia build upon a bedrock of one absolute truth: Bad things happen, and someone must be responsible. Upon this bedrock they pile convenient and selective facts like bricks. Contradictory facts are clever lies. When Popular Mechanics debunked 9/11 hokum, the immediate response from conspiratorialists was “cover-up!” and “CIA front!” because in this perverted faith, denying the ultimate truth must be proof of a lie.
This rough beast slouches toward sedition because it assumes not that our leaders are knaves or even mere criminals, but that they are murderous Supermen with no loyalty to nation, decency or law. Our Constitution is a fraud, a charade for the rubes some of us naively call citizens. If you disagree, you’re either fool or “in on it.” In his 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter demonstrated that this fever of the mind is as old as America itself and its outbreaks flare up across the ideological landscape. What is so sad and frightening is that this diseased thinking is reaching epidemic proportions. More than a third of Americans believe the U.S. government was likely to have been involved in 9/11.
In the past, when these outbreaks occurred on the political right, liberal hand-wringers fretted about incipient fascism and rising McCarthyism. Today, the best we get from them is a bemused and sterile chuckle.